"We told them every shell (they fire) equals five barrel bombs,"
said Amar, a local policeman in the city, who argued that any
civilians hit by the highly destructive improvised weapons deserved
it for tolerating "terrorists".
"They didn't believe us and they continued launching shells, so the
army responded with a pounding of barrel bombs."
Almost two years after rebels grabbed half of Syria's biggest city,
they are on the defensive, with government forces advancing on three
If Assad can retake Aleppo, he would be back in control of Syria's
three largest cities, a bulwark for the Mediterranean provinces of
Latakia and Tartous which form the heartland of his minority Alawite
With the rest of the country split between autonomous Kurdish areas
in the northeast and a range of Sunni Islamist rebel groups in the
east, Syria's fragmentation could become irreversible.
The battle for Aleppo ebbs and flows — the rebels regained some high
ground at the weekend — but Assad's forces struck back on Monday,
dropping barrel bombs from helicopters on several rebel-held
districts in the east.
The military ramped up its offensive in December, pummeling civilian
areas with scores of barrel bombs, made from oil drums packed with
explosives and shrapnel that cause massive and indiscriminate
In six weeks, they killed more than 700 people, mostly civilians,
and forced tens of thousands more from their homes.
Khadija and her six children fled their home in the eastern district
of Al-Sukkari when it was struck by a barrel bomb in late January.
They passed through the "death crossing" — a 100-metre stretch of
sniper territory between Aleppo's eastern and western halves — hoping for a better life on the other side.
"When we reached the government side, the soldiers viciously beat us
with a stick," she said.
Denied a residency permit to live in government-held territory, they
sleep wherever they find shelter, moving every few days to evade
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that satellite
images showed 340 sites hit in opposition-controlled Aleppo between
early November and late February. The damage appeared "strongly
consistent with the detonation of highly explosive unguided bombs."
[to top of second column]
Western powers have condemned the use of barrel bombs as a war
crime, but they continue to fall nearly every day in Aleppo and
other parts of Syria where more than 140,000 people have died in
three years of war.
The bombardment has uprooted thousands of
people, some of whom fled to neighboring Turkey while others, like
Khadija, moved to government-controlled areas of Aleppo, where they
have been forced to camp on the street and in parks and schools.
Abeer, an Aleppo-based researcher with the Jesuit Refugee Service,
said Assad's forces were even bombing government-held districts once
controlled by rebels as part of what she called a government "policy
of collective punishment".
"They continue to strike neighborhoods with barrel bombs to punish
their residents for embracing the opposition fighters when they
entered," she told Reuters.
Some of those forced to flee live on the streets, often with only a
flimsy tarpaulin for shelter. Others have sought cover in school
buildings, packed into classrooms by the dozen even as pupils attend
lessons, stirring social tension in a city once known for its
religious and political diversity.
"Aleppo is enduring a dreadful type of social fragmentation because
of the hatred between its residents, and the increased number of
displaced people has deepened this fragmentation," Abeer said.
Abdel Jabar and his family escaped a barrel bomb attack in January,
but have since lived as outcasts in a public garden on the other
side of the city.
Security forces forbade them from living with relatives in a
government-held district, he said. "The authorities impose residency
restrictions on us as if we are strangers in our own country."
(Writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by Dominic Evans and Philippa
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